Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Most people see the New Year as a blank slate. It is time for a fresh start. The most commonly made resolutions involve diet and exercise with the goals of getting fit and losing weight.
Have you considered drastically reducing your sugar intake? Not only is this a healthy choice for your mouth; it is also a healthy choice for your whole body.
Low Sugar Diet = Healthier Mouth
Almost everyone knows that sugar leads to cavities. Sugar also has an impact on inflammation and healing from surgeries.
Sugar and Cavities
A high sugar diet feeds the bad, cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth. The bacteria ingest (eat) the sugar and produce (poop) acid. The more sugar they eat, the more acid they poop. This acid is destructive to tooth enamel, weakening and softening it, just like acid etches glass.
By cutting out sugar, you are not feeding those bacteria, and therefore, not producing that enamel-destroying acid. Low sugar diets lead to enamel that is stronger and more resistant to cavities and acid erosion. If you want your teeth to outlast you, a low sugar diet is a must!
Sugar and Healing
What many people do not know is that sugar also has a large impact on how your body heals from surgeries by increasing inflammation.
Inflammation is the body’s response to anything dangerous, like infection, trauma, or even surgery. Inflammation includes pain, swelling, redness, and heat, and it slows down the healing process. Anything that gives you a high blood sugar level, whether that is diabetes or just a high sugar diet, will slow down your healing process.
Chronic inflammation plays a role in progressive gum disease and is often the reason periodontal disease gets continually worse despite good oral hygiene and consistent dental visits.
Dental patients undergoing surgeries to extract teeth or place dental implants need to watch their sugar intake. By reducing inflammation, you not only speed up the healing process; you also lower your post-surgery pain!
Low Sugar Diet = Healthier Body
Just as most people know that a high sugar diet leads to cavities, they typically know that it also leads to weight gain and obesity. What many people may not know is that a high sugar intake also leads to chronic inflammation, poor wound healing, and complications of certain systemic illnesses.
Sugar and Weight Gain
There are a few different chemical responses in the body to a high sugar diet. They involve insulin and other hormones that begin storing excess sugar as fat. One very interesting response to sugar in some people is that it induces opiate and dopamine activity in the reward centers of the brain. Do you know what that means? It means that some people can become truly addicted to sugar, just as they would be addicted to cocaine!
High sugar beverages, like your favorite soda or a fancy Starbucks drink, are also just empty calories. This means they fill your bloodstream with sugar without filling your stomach with nutrition. So on top of all the calories and sugar of your drinks, you have to add the calories of your food. Too many calories = weight gain.
Sugar and Chronic Inflammation
A lesser-known consequence of a high sugar diet is chronic inflammation in the body. Many of our diabetic patients understand this consequence, but even patients with a healthy pancreas are at risk for it.
Chronic inflammation slows down your ability to heal, so any injuries or surgeries have more post-op pain for a longer period of time. High sugar diets and chronic inflammation also increase your risk for several different types of cancer.
How to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth with Sugar Substitutes
So now, maybe we have convinced you that you should start cutting sugar out of your diet. What if you have a serious sweet tooth? How can you satisfy your sweet tooth and still cut sugar?
Sugar substitutes are not new. The first artificial sweeter, saccharin, was discovered by accident in 1879. Since then, scientists continue to develop more and more alternatives to sweeten your food and drinks.
Some people try to avoid synthetic sugar substitutes because they heard there is a risk for cancer or other health problems associated with them. A recent scientific literature review, published in 2015, showed no statistical evidence of cancer risk associated with artificial sweeteners.
Currently, the most popular artificial sweetener in the United States is sucralose. Sucralose comes in yellow packets, and Splenda is one of the brand names of sucralose sweetener. Sucralose is about 600 times sweeter than sugar, and researchers consider it safe for human consumption.
Let’s remember, though, that just because something is safe doesn’t mean it is actually good for you.
A Sugar Substitute that is Good for You
The best types of sugar alternative are those derived from plants. The two plant-based sugar substitutes that are easiest to find are stevia and xylitol.
As dentists, our favorite is xylitol. Why is that? Because it actually improves the health of your mouth. Xylitol stops bad cavity-causing bacteria from replicating. Therefore, it lowers your risk for cavities and gum disease.
Xylitol chewing gum stimulates the natural production of saliva, which ups your cavity-fighting game even more!
You can buy xylitol in granulated form in health food stores and use it just like sugar. Xylitol is just slightly less sweet than sugar, so it is a good substitute in baking or sweeting beverages. You might need to use a little more xylitol than you would sugar to get the same level of sweetness.
Xylitol is not zero calorie, but it has 40 percent fewer calories than sugar and a low glycemic index. This means that diabetic patients do still have to watch their blood sugar when using xylitol as a substitute.
Stevia is quite different from xylitol, and it is another good sugar substitute. Powdered stevia extract is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar, so you have to use it sparingly. Unlike xylitol, stevia is zero calorie. Stevia does not have the same effect on mouth bacteria as xylitol, but it will stimulate saliva. Dr. Lauren’s favorite sugar substitute right now is vanilla liquid stevia!
Need More Information about How Cutting Sugar will Make You Healthier This Year?
Call today to set up a consultation with Dr. Ann and Dr. Lauren. They can help you get on the road to great oral health in 2019.